Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has apologized for “mistakes” made in the 2003 invasion of Iraq in an interview to be broadcast Monday.
Blair also acknowledged for the first time a link between the war and the rise of Daesh in the Middle East.
The former Labour prime minister’s comments in an interview with U.S. broadcaster CNN were widely interpreted as an attempt to head off the criticism expected in a report into the war by Sir John Chilcot.
Blair said there were “elements of truth” in the argument that the invasion was the principal cause of Daesh’s emergence. The group emerged from al-Qaeda in Iraq, which thrived in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion.
Referring to the war that toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he said: “Of course you can’t say that those who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation in 2015.”
“But it’s important also to realize, one, that the Arab Spring which began in 2011 would also have had its impact on Iraq today, and two, ISIS actually came to prominence from a base in Syria and not in Iraq.”
Blair apologized for mistakes in intelligence and planning for the war but stopped short of a wholehearted apology.
Referring to the pre-war claim that Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction – weapons that were never discovered during or after the war – Blair said: “I can say that I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong because, even though he had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the program in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought.”
The war resulted in the deaths of an estimated 461,000 people between 2003 and mid-2011, according to U.S., Canadian and Iraqi researchers, as the country was plunged into chaos and sectarian violence.
Asked if he believed the invasion was a mistake, Blair added he was sorry “for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.”
“But I find it hard to apologize for removing Saddam. Even from today, in 2015, it is better that he is not there than that he is there.”
The Mail on Sunday newspaper described his comments as the “historic moment Tony Blair finally apologises”.